Stop Shopping at Supermarkets and Save Money

A colourful display of fresh and cheap vegetables at the market

A colourful display of fresh and cheap vegetables at the market

Recently we have discovered that regular supermarkets are the most expensive places to go shopping. This certainly applies in Santiago de Chile, but I recall that we noticed the same thing last time travelling through other countries in Latin America. For somebody coming from Europe or North America this might be puzzling, and contradict all established routines.

Supermarkets here seem to use pricing models similar to those we know from Australian convenience stores, your quick stop around the corner to get the milk and bread you forgot. The medium sized supermarkets throughout this city offer similar convenience: you get almost everything in one place – but you pay for it! Though oftentimes the convenience is already lost by standing in a long line at the check out. On separate occasions each of us have left our full baskets behind because, after standing for over 15 minutes in a slow moving line, we had lost all patience.

mmmmh - French Brie full fat 60%

mmmmh – French Brie, full fat 60%

With groceries and other daily things being expensive, I take more notice of how much each item costs. We consider some “normal” things, like good cheese, Parmesan, real coffee (everybody drinks Nescafe), jam, mayonnaise, olives, and so on almost as luxuries, and buy them sparingly or in small quantities. Coffee only comes in 250 gram packs, so it’s not possible to save with a larger pack.

The bigger supermarkets, like Jumbo, can only be found outside Santiago Centro, so shopping there involves a return trip and Metro or bus fares. The savings aren’t that significant overall, but there is much more choice. Then, a few weeks ago, Yasha pointed out large market halls when we were passing by on a bus. They are walking distance from where we live right now, so one sunny day I went and checked them out. Initially I only looked for fruit and vegetables, because the selection at local supermarkets seems to be always small, expensive, not fresh and often of poor quality. What an eye opener the markets were!

Prices compared: supermarket vs market

Prices compared: supermarket vs market

Finally we got to eat meals we had dreamed of for weeks, because I was able to find different vegetables. And not only that, almost everything was half price or sometimes less. No wonder the market halls seem to be always busier than most supermarkets. Now I’m slowly discovering, that there are many other items I can get at the market halls for less than at the supermarkets – not everything, but the list is growing with every visit.

Price Comparison between Supermarkets and Market in Chile:
($= prices in CLP, Chilean PESOS, 1,000 CLP ~ US$1.80 or AUD1.90)

Product Supermkt. Market
Tomatoes, per kg $890 $350-400
Apples, per kg $600-900 $350-600
Bananas, per kg $650-800 $350-400
Toilet Paper, per 4 Rolls $1,699 $1,000
Soprole Butter 250g $1,659 $1,250
Brie, per Kilogram
Superm.: Chilean, Market: French
$15,129-21,990 $9,900
Cream Cheese, Pack of 227g $1,899-2,299 $990
Yummy and cheap cheese collection at the market

Yummy and cheap cheese collection at the market

Our second discovery to save money is a discounter called Mayorista 10 which I found on my way home from the markets. It looks a bit like a mixture between ALDI in Europe and the now closed Franklins in Australia: a very limited selection, a bit disorderly, and most things are put onto the shelves in cardboard boxes.

They tend to sell brand products, but not a wide variety, and what’s on offer seems to change depending what they can buy for a discount price. But many savings can be significant, particularly since they offer stepped pricing on many things! You buy one, you pay x amount, you buy 3 or 4 (depending what item it is) and the price is lower, you buy 6 or 12 and the price goes down again. I found with wine and yoghurt, both things we consume almost daily, I can quickly save the equivalent of a cup of coffee or our daily bread and butter.

Price Comparison between regular Supermarkets and Mayorista:
($= prices in CLP, Chilean PESOS, 1,000 CLP ~ US$1.80 or AUD1.90)

Product Supermkt. Mayorista
Paper Tissues, 6-pack $919 $590
Lady’s Hygiene Pads $1,649 $590
Yoghurt Griego w. Fruit $309 buy 4@ $269
Halls Peppermint $300 buy 12@ $175
Wine Leon Tarapaca $1,799 buy 3@ $1,579

Inside Mayorista

Inside Mayorista

There are of course some shortcomings to our new “shopping regime” to save money. At Mayorista 10 you get mostly non-perishable goods. They offer no fruit or vegetables, but do have a long row of fridges with yoghurt, milk products, sausages and ham (neither of which we eat), a very limited selection of cheese (mostly highly processed), margarine and butter (but none without salt, our preference). At the markets we cannot get some standard things which we buy almost weekly, like coffee (Mayorista carries only instant), nuts as a snack for Yasha to take to work, and so on… So shopping becomes a bit of running around from one place to the next. As I mentioned in the beginning: supermarkets charge extra for the convenience of offering everything in one place.

You start to feel better about the extra running around once you realise that alongside the savings you are supporting small local business owners by shopping at the markets, whereas almost all supermarkets here are part of three big corporations: the US-owned Walmart, along with Cencosud and Falabella, which are both nearly Chilean equivalents to Walmart.

Tell us (in the comments below): where do you prefer to shop?
Do you agree that supermarkets are not the best option to buy everything?


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24 Responses

  1. Very interesting post full of useful information, thank you for sharing!

  2. Couldn’t agree more. I absolutely prefer markets over supermarkets. In fact, I no longer know why I would need to go to a supermarket since we stopped eating processed foods all together and only need fruits, vegetables, legumes and things like rice or quinoa. Non-food such as toiletpaper or soap you can find on the market as well, so bye-bye supermarkets for me.

    • Juergen says:

      We still need supermarkets from time to time for things like coffee (very hard to find in these Nescafe countries), peppermint tee, unsalted butter (again hard to find since most shops only carry salted), olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and some other odds and ends.

  3. Donna Janke says:

    Where we live some supermarkets are the best for prices, but others are more expensive. I like using farmer’s markets in the summer because of the freshness of the produce, but I’m not sure that is cheaper. Our shopping when we winter in Arizona is different, The veggie market there is definitely cheaper than the supermarkets. I find it interesting and fun to discover how grocery shopping differs in different places.

    • Juergen says:

      When we were travelling in US we found that too. Specially personal hygiene items were often very expensive, which made it worthwhile finding a special drugstore chain. And the other thing were the amazing discounts you could get on store cards – every new chain we encountered our first visit was to the information desk to get a card.
      Another store I really liked in the US is “Trader Joe”, and now I#ve learned that it is in fact owned by one of the Albrecht families, who run ALDI in Germany’s North (and the USA).

  4. When we became empty nesters, we sold our house and moved to Center City Philadelphia. We don’t keep a car for everyday use. So, I do my shopping more in the European style (or at least, the old European style), going to a produce store for produce and a charcuterie type place. The produce store is less expensive and has better quality than the very small local supermarket. There are two pretty famous market stall type markets in Philadelphia–the Italian Market and the Reading Terminal Market, but both are a bit of a hike from where we live. Philly is trying to get more bike friendly, but I’m not there yet.

  5. We too are here in South America, just to the north of you in Ecuador. In the little town we are in, we don’t have the option of the supermarket (there isn’t one) so we are “forced” to use the local mercado. Excellent quality, and much lower prices. The only trouble for us is that the sellers get there to sell very early, and we can’t seem to get up there before a lot of them close for the day. We are contemplating sailing to Chile, and I’m always reading blogs of other travelers’ experiences there. Thanks for the real-world comparison shopping.

    • Juergen says:

      Thanks for the feedback! I believe I recently read your report about the “Devil’s Nose” train in Ecuador. Living on a boat is probably as cramped as living in a small camper. Nothing for me anyway: I hate wind, makes me grumpy every time, but sail boat without wind… So be the right wind with you!

  6. Very valuable information. And you certainly went the extra mile by adding the price tables. Very interesting!!

  7. I shop at about 10 different stores regularly, including a supermarket. One is good for this, another for that. But living in Berkeley, we have one super grocery that has everything–including good prices. Berkeley Bowl. I go there almost every week.

  8. In my town, it’s cheaper (although not always desirable) to shop in supermarkets. Our Farmer’s Markets have high quality goods at high prices. Must be challenging to find all the different shopping venues as you move around.

    • Juergen says:

      Ah well, finding hops can be also part of the fun! Finding parking in walking distance to a local market – that’s with a large vehicle no fun!

  9. noel says:

    Why go to a boring supermarket when you have the option of visiting amazing local markets and really buy fresh or locally made products from the area, it’s so nice to have this type of experience and it’s a lot of fun to explore and photgraph

    • Juergen says:

      I fully agree – only my back, which has to carry the stuff home, doesn’t. The other issue is of course the language barrier, and for some unknown reason many stall holders here don’t like you to chose your own. More often than not I get the stuff ripped out of my hands and put back on the pile – with some rant I usually don’t understand. But I hear this is typical and happens to locals too; you first need to build up a relationship of some sort with a vendor, then they let you do this. Next step in this relationship is supposed to be that you leave a list with your preferred vendor and they get everything for you (what they don’t carry from neighbouring stalls) for a good price in good quality – but we’re not there yet. The Chilenos even have a special name for this person (I forgot).
      Even if I don’t need anything I often visit markets for the photo opportunities alone!

  10. In NZ I’ve recently started making the effort to go to the local vegetable market rather than buy from the supermarket – it’s cheaper and fresher!

  11. Santiago de Chile sounds like many towns and places in Mexico where it’s generally better price and quality wise to shop in the market rather than a supermarket. One thing I do enjoy in the supermarkets though are the free samples of food on offer — its an opportunity to taste a variety of foods I otherwise wouldn’t consider. Not sure if its as common there as it is in Guatemala where its not unusual to see 10 or more tasting stations set up in one of the superstore such as Paiz.

    • Juergen says:

      Where you mention it: I remember this from some Supermarkets in Central America! Never seen many tasting stations here in South American supers, but the cheese stall at the market always lets me try before I buy.

  12. Michelle says:

    We shop at Farmer’s markets as much as possible. It’s less expensive, fresher and healthier. We also eat at a restaurant that we know uses ingredients from Farmer’s Markets as well.

    • Juergen says:

      Unfortunately where we’re from in Australia (Mullumbimby) the farmers’ market is rather expensive and touristy with many things. Cheapest option is often to stop at roadside stalls outside a farm gate.

  13. Aloha Juergen – Here on Kauai, we favor the farmer’s markets because of the quality, although prices are generally comparable or a bit less. You can’t go wrong getting closer to the source. Informative comparisons between supermarket and discounter pricing, too. Good to know for folks who will be visiting.

  14. I definitely agree that supermarkets are not the best place to buy everything, but they can certainly save you time, and in many cases, time is money.

    I prefer to shop in small markets for my fresh produce, cheeses, breads, etc. where freshness is key. But for staple products and dry goods, supermarkets can still offer the best value in some destinations.

    • Juergen says:

      This post is specifically about Latin America. As I wrote: us Westerners are use to go into a supermarket and get the best prices for most staple supplies. Here in Santiago even small “tiendas” are oftentimes cheaper than supermarkets, but finding these and wait in line to be served is then beyond a traveller’s patience.

  15. suzy armstrong says:

    Hi – enjoying your dare2go – unbelievable how you made your home – wow, am really impressed with all your knowledge, creativity and patience! Congrats to both of you – will enjoy your new adventure. Suzy!

    • Juergen says:

      Hi Suzy – Yasha here. It’s great that you are once again enjoying our journey with us. Even though we are stationary in Santiago Chile at the moment, we are both busy with new experiences offered by this different culture.
      I am really enjoying the experience of teaching English and it’s a wonderful way to get to know and spend time with local people.
      But we are both really looking forward to spending time on the road in Berta, our new mobile home.

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